A hemispherical cylinder head ("hemi-head") gives an efficient combustion chamber with an excellent surface-to-volume ratio, with minimal heat loss to the head, and allows for two large valves. However, a hemi-head allows no more than two valves per cylinder, and these large valves are necessarily heavier than in a multi-valve engine. The intake and exhaust valves lie on opposite sides of the chamber and necessitate a "cross-flow" head design. Since the combustion chamber is a partial hemisphere, a flat-topped piston would yield too low a compression ratio unless a very long stroke is used, so to attain desired compression ratio the piston crown is domed to protrude into the head at top dead center, resulting in a combustion chamber in the shape of the thick peel of half an orange.
The hemi-head design places the spark plug at or near the center of the chamber to promote a strong flame front. However, if the hemi-head hemisphere is of equal diameter to the piston, there is minimal squish for proper turbulence to mix fuel and air thoroughly. Thus, hemi-heads, because of their lack of squish, are more sensitive to fuel octane rating; a given compression ratio will require a higher octane rating to avoid pre-detonation in a hemi engine than in some conventional engine designs such as the wedge and bathtub.
The hemi head always has intake and exhaust valve stems that point in different directions, requiring a large, wide cylinder head and complex rocker arm geometry in both cam-in-block and single overhead cam engines (dual overhead cam engines may not have rocker arms). This adds to the overall width of the engine, limiting the vehicles in which it can be installed.
Significant challenges in the commercialization of engine designs utilizing hemispherical chambers revolved around the valve actuation, specifically how to make it effective, efficient, and reliable at an acceptable cost.Double Rocker Shaft head.
This complexity was referenced early in Chrysler's development of their 1950s hemi engine: the head was referred to in company advertising as the
Chrysler developed their first experimental hemi engine for the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft. The XIV-2220 engine was an inverted V16 rated at 2,500 hp (1,860 kW). The P-47 was already in production with a Pratt & Whitney radial engine when the XIV-2220 flew successfully in trials in 1945 as a possible upgrade, but the war was winding down and it did not go into production. However, the exercise gave Chrysler engineers valuable research and development experience with two-valve hemi combustion chamber dynamics and parameters.
In addition to the aircraft engine, Chrysler and Continental worked together to develop the air-cooled AV-1790-5B V12 Hemi engine used in the M47 Patton tank.